Meaning no disrespect to jazz lovers the world over, locally based guitarist and composer Ross Hammond will tell you he’s not really a jazz artist even though that’s how he usually is identified.
Hammond’s well-regarded recordings are mostly reviewed by and featured in jazz-based media, so you might think he doth protest too much. The perception will adjust somewhat as Hammond releases a solo acoustic guitar album called “Flight” on April 14. He will celebrate the release with shows in Sacramento on April 12-13.
Hammond, 37, has had a solid run of releases, beginning with 2012’s “Adored” and its 2013 follow-up, “Cathedrals,” both with the quartet of percussionist Alex Cline, bassist Steuart Liebig and woodwind virtuoso Vinny Golia. Hammond played electric guitar on these records, often using effects to alter the sound.
The new album is Hammond’s first acoustic record and a significant departure from his last recording, 2014’s “The Humanity Suite,” which he composed for a sextet of musicians and recorded live in performance at the Crocker Art Museum. The album was praised in the jazz bible Downbeat magazine and also received a 41/2-star review in Jazziz Magazine. All of his recordings are released on his own Prescott Records label.
Never miss a local story.
Hammond is not likely to get rich operating on that level, but he has figured out how to make it work.
“I usually get my CDs in orders of 1,000. ‘Cathedrals’ is nearly sold out. Most of all of the sales these days come from downloads, whether on Bandcamp or iTunes,” Hammond said. Streaming is prevalent but the financial return is negligible.
“My audience is a little bit older, so I think CDs are still viable for me, but probably more in the 300- to 500-unit range, because by the time those are sold it will be time for a new record.”
He thinks “Flight” will sell mostly in downloads, though he’ll have physical copies to sell at gigs. His only CD distribution otherwise is through his website or Bandcamp store.
“I don’t think CD replication is the most savvy move for DIY artists because you automatically start off several hundred dollars in the hole,” Hammond said. “If you only sell one digital album for $10, then that may be a better move financially than dropping $1,000 for CDs that will inevitably sit in the basement for a while.”
The new record has a few original compositions but also features spirituals and traditional Americana such as “You Are My Sunshine,” “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “On the Rock Where Moses Stood” and “Deep River.” Spare and pensive.
“I’ve always been an acoustic player, and I wanted to do an acoustic thing for a while,” Hammond said recently. It wasn’t until last year that he felt comfortable enough in the format as something he wanted to play beyond his front porch.
“I’ll still hear a groove or hear a vamp and try to have everything make sense at the bare minimum. Can the song come through on one instrument by myself? Can I make it work?”
The key was acquiring a 12-string acoustic guitar for a rich, resonant sound that spoke to him. He plays a finger-picking style on the guitar that he feels allows him to get the most out of the instrument.
He also plays six-string and slide on the record.
“I feel like all of the songs you could translate and say here’s the bass part, here’s the melody part, the rhythm is this,” he said. “So the songs are composed in the same way like you’d try to sing something around the house.”
Now Hammond will contend with suggestions he has made a folk record. “Well no, I’m not U. Utah Phillips sitting up here,” he said. “It’s just music.”
Hammond will undertake a number of short tours in support of the new album, going to the East Coast in May and this summer making some stops in the West.
He will no longer produce the In The Flow Festival of improvisational music as he had for the past eight years.
“I’m at a different place in my life, and it’s hard to do a festival like that,” Hammond said. The festival was a multiday, multivenue event with 20-30 bands from up and down the West Coast. “I’ve got a family, and I’m trying to do my own thing. All the work came down on me. I thought it’s OK to let it go.”
He’s also giving up some responsibility on the weekly Nebraska Mondays series, the longtime improvisational music he founded at Luna’s Cafe. He’ll book the series twice a month, with local musicians Tony Passarell and Byron Colburn each now taking one week.
“Part of it is having more time where I don’t have to do that stuff, but also I would like to involve other people in putting their own shows together,” Hammond said.
“It was always more of a survival thing. If you want to play, then you’ve got to book it. The DIY aesthetic is great as long as there’s someone doing it.”
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.